- Common Name:
- Praying Mantis
- Scientific Name:
- Average Life Span In The Wild:
- 1 years
- 0.4 to 18 inches long
- Size relative to a teacup:
- IUCN Red List Status:
- Least concern
Least Concern Extinct
- Current Population Trend:
What is a praying mantis?
Praying mantises are predatory insects named for the look of their folded forelegs, which are held close together as if praying. The name most commonly refers to Mantis religiosa, the European praying mantis—but it is also used for many of the other 2,500 mantis species in the world, which live on all continents except Antarctica.
But whatever you call the praying mantis, its name is only one vowel off from the mantises’ real defining characteristic—preying.
Mantids may stalk or ambush prey, waiting silently then launching a sudden, individually calculated attack on their quarry that takes only milliseconds. Springing forward, they grasp their victim with those forelegs, called raptorial legs. The second and third sections of these limbs have interlocking spines, like a claw clip for your hair, making escape impossible.
Females are often as merciless to their mates as they are to their meals, cannibalizing a mate. He may lose his head as she bites into him—but he doesn't lose his purpose, as he continues to mate with her.
The mantid’s thorax, or center part of the body, is long and slender enough to look like a neck. Between the head and the thorax there is a flexible joint that allows mantises to swivel their heads around 180 degrees, the only insect that can do so.
They’re also the only invertebrate that can see in 3D—but it’s a different kind of 3D vision than our own. Preying mantises have two large forward-facing compound eyes and three small, simple eyes called ocelli, which only see light and motion and can detect movement from 60 feet away. Experiments have showed they will ignore stationary objects but react to the slightest movement. This enables them to calibrate their attacks to the movement of their quarry, which they make short work of with their strong jaws.
Praying mantises are excellent at using camouflage to blend into their surroundings. European praying mantises are green or brown to match trees and plants. The conehead mantis of southern Europe and Turkey, meanwhile, has a spiny crown on its heart-shaped head and a lower body that looks like parts of a tree’s twigs or branches. The southeast Asian orchid mantis is white with pink or yellow shading like a flower, and the dragon mantis of Brazil resembles the leaves of trees in the rain forest right down to its ability to sway just a bit in the breeze.
Mantids use all these refined methods to catch other insects—though the larger of the 2,500 mantis species will also eat small reptiles, amphibians, and birds.
(Mantis devours hummingbird in shocking photo.)
Breeding and behavior
Yet another distinction of mantids is their notorious mating behavior—sexual cannibalism. Males, the smaller of the two sexes, risk ending up as a meal. Some 30 percent of the time, the female will bite into the male’s head and consume it until it’s gone—sometimes even for hours while the male’s dying body continues trying to mate.
(What to know for praying mantis mating season.)
Mantises tend to mate in the autumn. Females lay hundreds of eggs in a small case called an ootheca, which starts out as a large, foamy secretion stuck to a plant but hardens into a protective nursery. The ootheca structure varies according to species. For example, European and Carolina mantises lay flatter, textured egg cases while the Chinese mantis’ ootheca is more rounded and puffy.
Females die shortly after this feat, and the young, called nymphs, hatch in the spring, looking like tiny versions of the adults. The nymphs disperse immediately and will start looking for food, and might eat each other. They will molt several times before entering adulthood in summertime.
European praying mantises are not under threat, but the habitats they live in—including shrubland, savannas, grassland—often undergo degradation or destructionfrom commercial, industrial, or agricultural development.They thrive in warmer climates with a varied population of prey.
The International Union for the Conservation of Nature has assessed the risks to 38 mantis species. Most are considered of least concern, or not in danger of extinction, and the organization says it does not have enough data to assess 15 of the species. Two of the species listed have already gone extinct while others, like the Spain's Canary dwarf mantis of the island La Palma and Pau’s dwarf mantis of the country's coast are considered near extinct due to pollution and development.
Did you know?
In 2018 researchers at Newcastle University put tiny 3D glasses on mantids to study their vision and discovered their unique 3D capabilities.
The closest relatives of mantids are cockroaches and termites.
—Encyclopedia of Insects
Sometimes called an “auditory cyclops,” most mantids have only one ear and it’s between their mid- and hind legs. They only hear high frequency sounds—like the echolocation calls of their great aerial predator, bats.
— Journal of the Acoustical Society of America
Editor's note:This story was originally published on September 10, 2010. It was last updated on November 18, 2022.
Insights, advice, suggestions, feedback and comments from experts
I am an expert and enthusiast based assistant. I have access to a wide range of information and can provide assistance on various topics. I can help answer questions, provide information, and engage in discussions. If you have any specific questions or topics you would like to discuss, feel free to ask!
Now, let's dive into the information related to the concepts used in the article about the praying mantis.
The praying mantis, scientifically known as Mantidae, is a type of invertebrate insect. It is named for the characteristic look of its folded forelegs, which are held close together as if in a praying position. The name "praying mantis" is commonly used to refer to Mantis religiosa, the European praying mantis, but it can also be used for the other 2,500 mantis species found worldwide, excluding Antarctica .
The mantis has a long and slender thorax, which gives it the appearance of having a neck. It has a flexible joint between the head and thorax that allows it to swivel its head around 180 degrees, making it the only insect capable of such movement. Praying mantises have two large forward-facing compound eyes and three small, simple eyes called ocelli. While the compound eyes provide vision in 3D, the ocelli can only detect light and motion. Praying mantises use their vision to calibrate their attacks to the movement of their prey .
Praying mantises are also known for their excellent camouflage abilities. Different mantis species have evolved to blend into their surroundings. For example, European praying mantises are green or brown to match trees and plants. The conehead mantis of southern Europe and Turkey has a spiny crown on its head and a lower body that resembles tree twigs or branches. The southeast Asian orchid mantis is white with pink or yellow shading, resembling a flower. The dragon mantis of Brazil resembles the leaves of trees in the rainforest. These camouflage techniques help mantises catch other insects .
Diet and Hunting Behavior
Praying mantises are carnivorous insects that primarily feed on other insects. However, larger mantis species may also eat small reptiles, amphibians, and birds. Mantises are skilled hunters and use various techniques to capture their prey. They may stalk or ambush their prey, waiting silently before launching a sudden and calculated attack. When attacking, mantises use their specialized forelegs, called raptorial legs, to grasp their victims. The second and third sections of these legs have interlocking spines, making escape impossible for the prey.
Breeding and Behavior
One notable aspect of mantis behavior is their mating behavior, which includes sexual cannibalism. Male mantises, being smaller than females, risk being consumed by the female during or after mating. In fact, around 30 percent of the time, the female will bite into the male's head and consume it until it's gone, sometimes even while the male's dying body continues to attempt mating .
Mantises tend to mate in the autumn, and females lay hundreds of eggs in a small case called an ootheca. The ootheca starts as a large, foamy secretion stuck to a plant but hardens into a protective nursery. The structure of the ootheca varies among species. After laying the eggs, the female mantis dies, and the nymphs hatch in the spring. The nymphs disperse immediately and start looking for food. They undergo several molts before reaching adulthood in the summertime.
The European praying mantis, including other mantis species, is generally considered of least concern in terms of conservation status. However, the habitats they live in, such as shrublands, savannas, and grasslands, often face degradation or destruction due to commercial, industrial, or agricultural development. While most mantis species are not in danger of extinction, some species have already gone extinct, and others are considered near extinct due to pollution and development .
I hope this information provides a good overview of the concepts discussed in the article about the praying mantis. If you have any more questions or would like to discuss any other topic, feel free to ask!